Arts Education in Action: The Louisville Leopard Percussionists
All too often, we hear about cutting art and music programs from our schools. Some systems talk about it, and others have unfortunately actually cut these programs because some members of the public think that they are not important. Too many people believe that anything besides reading, math, and science are expendable because other subjects will not help students get jobs and be valuable members of society. The Louisville Leopard Percussionists have proven those people wrong for the last 20 years.
Originally founded in 1993 as The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists, The Louisville Leopard Percussionists was created ten years later as a community-based, non-profit organization, allowing members from throughout the community, rather than being limited to a particular school. The performers range in age from 7 to 12, and make no mistake, these are indeed performers. They come from over 25 different schools in and around Louisville, KY, and have performed not only at various events in Kentucky and Indiana, but also around the country, including in New Orleans, Tampa, Chicago, and Atlanta. Two of their most prestigious performances were at the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival (2008) in Washington, D.C. and at the International Association for Jazz Education Annual Convention (2006) in New York. The Leopards were also featured in the HBO Family series “The Music in Me” in the episode The Leopards take Manhattan: The Little Band that Roared.
As you can see from these videos of rehearsals and performances, these young people are both talented and dedicated. They are a perfect example of why music must continue to have a place in our schools. Not only are these kids having fun and learning music, they are also learning teamwork, responsibility, and leadership skills. The students not only learn their own parts, but are encouraged to help teach their fellow members. The group is often allowed to work on the arrangements of the pieces performed, and even write their own music.
Here’s a promotional video for the group. You can learn a little bit about the inner workings of the group, and why they are so special.
Diana Downs, group founder and artistic director is a music educator in the Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) Public School System, and she employs a variety of methods to both teach and inspire the Leopards. Many of the assistants are former group members, and they can bring their personal experiences from their younger years to help the current members. Through these fine educators, the members of the Leopards are learning valuable skills that will serve them well in any career.
The Louisville Leopard Percussionists may not be an official school-sponsored program, but this is education in its purest form. Educators inspiring kids to learn and have fun. It is programs like this that truly prove that music education has a place in our schools, and are important to our community, our lives, and indeed our very future.